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Nick Davies and David Leigh report: "Journalists from across News International repeatedly targeted the former prime minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voicemail and obtaining information from his bank account, his legal file as well as his family's medical records. Separately, Brown's tax paperwork was taken from his accountant's office apparently by hacking into the firm's computer. This was passed to another newspaper."

News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch arrives at his residence in central London as more allegations of hacking emerge, 07/11/11. (photo: Sang Tan/AP)
News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch arrives at his residence in central London as more allegations of hacking emerge, 07/11/11. (photo: Sang Tan/AP)

Murdoch's Papers Hacked Into Prime Minister's Records

By Nick Davies and David Leigh, Guardian UK

11 July 11


News International papers targeted Gordon Brown. Newspapers obtained details from the former prime minister's bank account and legal file and his family's medical records.

ournalists from across News International repeatedly targeted the former prime minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voicemail and obtaining information from his bank account and legal file as well as his family's medical records.

There is also evidence that a private investigator used a serving police officer to trawl the police national computer for information about him. That investigator also targeted another Labour MP who was the subject of hostile inquiries by the News of the World, but it is not confirmed whether News International was specifically involved in trawling police computers for information on Brown.

Separately, Brown's tax paperwork was taken from his accountant's office apparently by hacking into the firm's computer. This was passed to another newspaper.

Brown was targeted during a period of more than 10 years, both as chancellor of the exchequer and as prime minister. Some of the activity clearly was illegal. Other incidents breached his privacy but not the law. An investigation by the Guardian has found that:

  • Scotland Yard has discovered references to Brown and his wife, Sarah, in paperwork seized from Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who specialised in phone hacking for the News of the World.

  • Abbey National bank found evidence suggesting that a "blagger" acting for the Sunday Times on six occasions posed as Brown and gained details from his account.

  • London lawyers Allen & Overy were tricked into handing over details from his file by a conman working for the Sunday Times.

  • Details from his infant son's medical records were obtained by the Sun, who published a story about the child's serious illness.

Brown joins a long list of Labour politicians who are known to have been targeted by private investigators working for News International, including the former prime minister Tony Blair and his media adviser Alastair Campbell, the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and his political adviser Joan Hammell, Peter Mandelson as trade secretary, Jack Straw and David Blunkett as home secretaries, Tessa Jowell as media secretary and her special adviser Bill Bush, and Chris Bryant as minister for Europe.

The sheer scale of the data assault on Brown is unusual, with evidence of attempts to obtain his legal, financial, tax, medical and police records as well as to listen to his voicemail. All of these incidents are linked to media organisations. In many cases, there is evidence of a link to News International.

Scotland Yard recently wrote separately to Brown and to his wife to tell them that their details had been found in evidence collected by Operation Weeting, the special inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World. It is believed that this refers to handwritten notes kept by Mulcaire, which were seized by police in August 2006 and never previously investigated. Brown last year asked Scotland Yard if there was evidence he had been targeted by the private investigator and was told there was none.

Journalists who have worked at News International say they believe Brown's personal bank account was accessed on several occasions while he was chancellor. An internal inquiry by Abbey National's fraud department found that during January 2000 someone acting on behalf of the Sunday Times contacted their Bradford call centre six times, posing as Brown, and succeeded in extracting details from his account.

Abbey National's senior lawyer sent a summary of their findings to the editor of the Sunday Times, John Witherow, concluding: "On the basis of these facts and inquiries, I am drawn to the conclusion that someone from the Sunday Times or acting on its behalf has masqueraded as Mr Brown for the purpose of obtaining information from Abbey National by deception."

Abbey National were not able to identify the bogus caller who tricked their staff. It is a matter of public record that a Sunday Times reporter frequently used the services of a former actor, John Ford, who specialised in "blagging" confidential data from banks, phone companies and the Inland Revenue (now HM Revenue & Customs).

Also in January 2000, one of the paper's reporters used a conman named Barry Beardall, who was subsequently jailed for fraud, to trick staff at Allen & Overy into handing over details from his personal file.

A tape made by Beardall at the time reveals that he claimed to be an accountant from the "Dealson group of companies" and that they were interested in buying Brown's flat. Beardall also practised trickery in an attempt to provide Sunday Times stories about Blair, when he was prime minister, and Labour's candidate for the mayor of London, Frank Dobson.

Confidential health records for Brown's family have reached the media on two different occasions. In October 2006, the then editor of the Sun, Rebekah Brooks, contacted the Browns to tell them that they had obtained details from the medical file of their four-month-old son, Fraser, which revealed his cystic fibrosis.

On the Sun's website it claims it 'set the news agenda' by 'breaking the sad news that Gordon Brown's baby boy Fraser has Cystic Fibrosis.' This appears to have been a clear breach of the Data Protection Act, which would allow such a disclosure only if it were in the public interest. Friends of the Browns say the call caused them immense distress, since they were only coming to terms with the diagnosis, which had not been confirmed. The Sun published the story.

Five years earlier, when their first child, Jennifer, was born on 28 December 2001, a small group of specialist doctors and nurses was aware that she had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was dying. By some means which has not been discovered, this highly sensitive information was obtained by news organisations, who published it over the weekend before Jennifer died, on Monday 6 January 2002.

In 2003, Devon and Cornwall police discovered that one of their junior officers was providing information from the police national computer to a network of private investigators. The Guardian has established that one of these investigators, Glen Lawson of Abbey Investigations in Newcastle upon Tyne, used this contact to commission a search of police records for information about Brown on 16 November 2000. Lawson also commissioned searches related to two other Labour MPs, Nick Brown and Martin Salter.

Lawson made these searches on behalf of journalists, a previously unreported court hearing was told. Transcripts obtained by the Guardian show that the search on Martin Salter was made at a time when the News of the World, then edited by Brooks, was attacking him for refusing to support the paper's notorious "Sarah's law" campaign to name paedophiles. Lawson currently refuses to name the journalists who commissioned him.

An attempt to prosecute this network was blocked by a West Country judge, Paul Darlow, who shocked police by ruling that it would be a misuse of public money to pursue the case. However, Devon and Cornwall police contacted the office of the then chancellor to warn him that he had been a victim, as they also did with his two Labour colleagues.

Brown's tax paperwork was obtained from the offices of his accountants, Auerbach Hope, in late 1998.

The first sign that the records had been taken came when a journalist from the now defunct Sunday Business called the accountants to say that they had been passed a copy of the records, including a schedule of Brown's income for the most recent year. The journalist acknowledged that the paperwork showed no sign of any kind of wrongdoing on Brown's part but wanted to do a story about the fact that it had been stolen.

Police came and found no sign of any break-in. The originals of the documents were still in Brown's file, which ruled out the possibility that they had been taken from the firm's dustbins.

Auerbach Hope discounted theft by an insider on the grounds that they would have stolen paperwork which showed wrongdoing and thus had greater media value. They concluded that the most likely explanation was that somebody had hacked into their computer systems, specifically targeting Gordon Brown.

Senior Labour figures also strongly suspect that a news organisation broke the law to obtain the emails that led to the resignation in April 2009 of Brown's close aide Damian McBride. The emails, which disclosed a scheme to smear Tory MPs, had been exchanged between McBride and a Labour party activist, Derek Draper. The Labour figures believe that the emails were hacked from Draper's computer and that their contents were then sent to the political blogger Guido Fawkes, whose stories were then followed by Fleet Street. News International said in a statement: "We note the allegations made today concerning the reporting of matters relating to Gordon Brown. So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us."

David Muir, one of Mr Brown's most senior advisers at No 10, said: "They were contacted by Rebekah Brooks, who told them that they had information that Fraser had cystic fibrosis, which was a matter that they, the family, were just getting their heads around at the time and dealing with.

"And you've got to remember this is just after they had suffered the bereavement with Jennifer (the Browns' first child, who died soon after she was born) as well.

"They didn't know how Rebekah came across this information and now, what's come to light, it was obtained by what appeared to be illegal methods." your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+10 # Activista 2011-07-11 17:22
"attempting to access his voicemail and obtaining information from his bank account and legal file"
Read NYT, NYP - all the crap about $100,000 in the account of African woman raped by Kahn in New York - plus phone conversant with her "friend".
Plus all the immigration reports? Do you think that this was obtained LEGALLY?
People get the PERSPECTIVE.
+5 # Texas Aggie 2011-07-12 00:04
Actually they probably were. The boyfriend was in prison so his phone calls are tapped routinely. The rest can be obtained by subpoena by the cops. All of this is then part of the public record.
+5 # phrixus 2011-07-12 06:44
Unless you have evidence to the contrary, I suspect it was. Keep in mind this individual was the sole witness in a high-profile, felony criminal case. Accordingly, in keeping with due process and discovery, the defense is legally entitled to a myriad of information in order to protect the rights of the accused and ensure a just result. You also refer to "...African woman raped by Kahn in New York..." If I recall correctly, the accused has not been convicted of ANYTHING and according to the American system of justice, is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Your statements are heavily loaded with speculation while absent any facts what-so-ever.
+3 # Activista 2011-07-12 09:23
NY Post Smears DSK Rape Victim as "Hooker," Can't Back Up Their Claim (blog) - Alex DiBranco - ‎16 hours ago‎
The New York Post's sensational headline calling the hotel maid who reported being raped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn a "hooker" probably sold a lot of papers. Too bad the claim is completely unsubstantiated , ...

DSK Accuser's Hotel Job Application Undercuts 'Post's' Sordid Claims
The Atlantic Wire - ‎17 hours ago‎
"Your statements are heavily loaded with speculation while absent any facts what-so-ever" The Post had indicated that the New York Hotel Worker's Union, Local 6, was arranging for its members to work as prostitutes on the side of their housekeeping duties, and that DSK's accuser was similarly set up. In the story, organizer Josh Gold denied ...
Kahn's $$defense $$ is planting these stories and Murdoch's media PR is $$ publishing $$.. if people do not see pattern of rapist behavior who is BUYING American justice .. then ..
Immigration records ARE NOT public records ...
+8 # fredboy 2011-07-12 01:22
No surprises. Once they realized they had entry they likely tried various targets. It will be interesting to see how widespread this becomes, and if it was or is also practiced in the U.S.
+8 # Observer 47 2011-07-12 07:57
Why would the same underhanded methods NOT be used in the U.S.? I'd say that the chances are about 100% that they were/are.
+16 # Ralph Averill 2011-07-12 02:06
Kudos to the Guardian! I hope they keep digging! This is investigative reporting at its best. Let the lawsuits and prosecutions begin!
+13 # Heartbeatt 2011-07-12 03:01
What a loathsome lot they are. All the gloom at the News of the World because they are closing down. I'm sorry anyone should lose a job, but they damn well should understand that they were part of a very nasty newspaper. One down, lots more to go!
+9 # in deo veritas 2011-07-12 07:44
This SOB and his minions are indeed guilty of the same things Assange and Wikileaks are being crucified for. Either both are criminals or neither. The only difference is that Assange was divulging information to show us how corrupt our "elected" leaders have been and how they have lied and deceived us. On the other hand Murduck and his group have lied and deceived us to enrich themselves and their corporate fascist allies. A vast difference. Down with Murduck and his evil empire!
+2 # 1066 2011-07-13 18:17
Clearly they are not the same. Whether or not the Wikileaks leaks were right or not, they were done in the intended public interest, without any idea of profit. The records released should arguably been public all the time.

Murdoch's papers were releasing private information, largely to increase the profits of the newspaper.

The law makes a distinction, or at least it should.
+2 # Torvus 2011-07-12 14:33
C'mon gals & guys, let's keep this man's name alive for evermore - turn it into a verb, 'to murdoch'. Over 4000 (at least) people have been murdoched in the UK and most of them still don't know it. The evil net spread for years: from the UK Prime Minister who has been murdoched (probably in situ), at least on ex-PM has been murdoched, the police have been murdoched, the royal family has been murdoched, various celebs likewise, to who the heck knows . . . ? In the USA I have no doubt you have many murdoched people, but who is going to blow the whistle? Maybe the US police and any other investigative body has been so thoroughly murdoched that they remain silent?
0 # CragJensen 2011-07-13 21:39
It's funny... I am not Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, Buddhist etc. But if I were to speculate as to who is the most likely person on our this planet of ours for who would be the most most likely candidate for this thing Christians call the "Anti-Christ" - it would be Rupert Murdoch.

A man who has captured the hearts and souls of more evangelical Christians than any other man or woman on the face of this planet.

The plot thickens, the darkness becomes ever-more evident and the apparent, (albeit) ever-so-infrequ ent revelations-cum -epiphanies become ever more enlightening.

The truth is, indeed, buoyant and Rupert's skulduggery is headed straight for the storm-stricken, froth-laden and unforgiving surface.

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